By NBF News
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Ahead of 2011 general election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be enmeshed in crisis over which geo-political zone of the country should fly the party's presidential flag.

The party touted to be the largest political party in Africa was formed in 1998 preparatory to transition from military to civil rule in 1999. It emerged winner of the 1999 presidential election with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

During the 2003 elections, Obasanjo re-contested under the same party and won.

However, with the failure of Obasanjo's tenure elongation, popularly called 'third term,' a northerner, Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was drafted to run for the highest office under the platform of PDP. He contested the presidential election in April 2007 and won, thus ascending the throne on May 27, 2007.

With the untimely exit of Yar'Adua after a protracted battle with Pericarditis, his vice and Southerner, Goodluck Jonathan automatically emerged at the nation's helm of affairs.

The development is causing furore among northern chieftains of the party who maintain that there was an agreement that presidential seat would be rotated between north and south at the inception of the party in 1998.

This group claims that since a southerner in the person of Obasanjo had served for two terms of eight years, it is only natural and justified that a northerner also serves eight years of two terms.

But for the sudden death of President Yar'Adua, the arrangement was being followed to the letter.

With the ascension of Jonathan to the seat as the constitution demands, there is palpable fear that the north-south arrangement might be heading for the rocks.

This fear became stronger when the PDP's Board of Trustees Chairman and former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo declared that he was not aware of any zoning arrangement in the party's constitution.

Obasanjo, while speaking on Voice of Nigeria (VON) on April 30, 2010, had said: 'There is no zoning of presidency to the north and there is no arrangement that precludes any Nigerian from contesting or from becoming the President of Nigeria.'

Former Vice-President and one of the founding members of the party, Chief Alex Ekwueme had also said there was no zoning arrangement in the party's constitution. Proponents of the zoning formular maintained that though the agreement was not entrenched in the party's constitution, there was an oral agreement, which members are bound to maintain.

They insist it was based on the agreement that the north conceded the 1999 presidential ticket to the south.

It could be recalled that during the 1999 presidential election, nobody from the north contested the PDP presidential primaries; it was solely a southern affair. Some observers maintain that the action itself is a pointer that even if there was no written agreement, there was an oral understanding that power should be rotated between north and south.

But opponents of north-south rotation arrangement are always quick to remind whoever that cares to know that the withdrawal of north from the race was to compensate the south for the controversial annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief MKO Abiola and which was presumed to be the freest and fairest in Nigeria's election history. As at Sunday, May 2, 2010, the party was still saying that its presidential ticket in 2011 remained zoned to the north.

The PDP's National Secretary, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje who gave the party's position lamented that some elders who are supposed to give correct position about the arrangement were misguiding the public.

It is believed in some quarters that the travails of the PDP National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor in the hands of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), is not unconnected with a statement credited to him in the past that the presidency remained zoned to the north as far as the party was concerned.

Fate of PDP
With the prevailing uneasy calm among various PDP power brokers with each group assuming a different stand in the zoning arrangement, political watchers have expressed fears that the development, if not carefully handled could plunge the country into political turmoil of unprecedented proportion.

According to the former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the rotation arrangement is a PDP affair and because the party is solidly in control of government, its activities will definitely affect the whole country.

He however said that the party was on its way out and deviating from the party's zoning arrangement will dim its chances of survival.

He added that the financial impropriety brought against Ogbulafor by the ICPC, is exposing the party as an undesirable organization, which is on its way out of political relevance. For Mike Igini, the rotation arrangement is an equity issue not an equality issue saying the proponents did not spell out all the possible dynamics in the arrangement.

According to him, the condition PDP finds itself today shows that the rotation guideline was not made with robust contingencies, adding that it was made based on two conditions, namely: That the PDP will have a stable executive candidature and that the candidature is entitled to two terms. He described both conditions as fallacious as the first does not reconcile with the reality of the morality of leaders while the second presumes that the prerogative of a second term lies solely with the PDP.

Based on the forgoing observations, Igini asked the following questions: when the rotation or shift principle was made, did the policy-makers include provisos for the possible contingencies which now exist? Has power shifted completely when a candidate hands over to another candidate from another region only or until such a candidate has served two terms?

Did the policy for instance, say what would happen if an incumbent is not elected for a second term by Nigerians? If that happens and the person is entitled to another term, will the PDP then deny the region or zone from which that candidate comes from, if the candidate insists on another shot say four years, eight years, or twelve years down the line? What happens when a candidate is impeached but has done only one term? Should the zone be given another shot since the candidate has only squandered one term?

'So the issue raises many policy-making questions when power shift is assumed. Does it stop with the first tenure or second tenure of a candidate or is the shift a privilege that can be perpetuated until all the possible attempts at election for the candidate are exhausted? It is not a simple matter and it raises more questions than it answers.

'But looking normatively at the Yardua/Goodluck ticket as a case study, we have to ask: Where does the ticket stop? Does it stop in 2011 or 2015? If that is the case, when will Goodluck be entitled to contest? 'Will the PDP not be substituting one inequity with another if it denies Jonathan the opportunity to contest, knowing that the assumption is now made that he has had one tenure, and can only then have an opportunity of only one more tenure constitutionally? Where would it leave the equity question for the South-South zone if they have to wait until the end of two terms for the assumed northern candidature?' he posited.

He however said that the party is in a situation where whether Jonathan is allowed to fly the party's flag in 2011 or a northerner replaces him, there will still be problems in the party created by its failure to have clear cut guidelines for transition and advised that consensus is the only thing that can save the party from possible demise.

'I think that the PDP is in a 'Catch 22' situation, damned if they do and damned if they don't. It will not be easy to appease either side whoever gets it. The only solution is consensus. They have to weigh the cost and benefits of giving Jonathan the ticket in 2011.

'If the costs outweigh the benefits of not giving him, then they have no choice. But it has to be a win-win arrangement, some trade-off and sacrifice have to be made. But what must not occur is for the rules to be left with such ambiguities for the future. They must re-examine all the rules surrounding transitions at all levels and make them watertight because transition is the biggest challenge of politics.

'If they don't do that, they can't really blame politicians for being ambitious; that is the nature of the game they play and only very few people who are not compelled by unequivocal guidelines will want to take a shot at the opportunity,' he advised. But for many, the belief among the PDP faithful is that the issue at hand is a normal party affair, which will be resolved when the chips are down.

To them, even if Jonathan is allowed to fly the party's flag in 2011, there is definitely going to be discontent in the north but those aggrieved would finally be appeased and the party would remain intact as ever.